For the release of the CD "Une nuit à Versailles", Paris Match published an interview by Karl Lagerfeld and Vanessa Paradis.Concerning Vanessa you have said "I don’t like to say that we are friends - that is our business.” Is that down to a principle of discretion?
KARL: I am not in favor of public declarations about feelings. I don’t remember in which book it is that a lady says: ‘If I like you, that’s none of your business.’ She is right.
VANESSA: We don’t even raise the subject with each other, maybe we just haven’t had the chance, but at the same time we’re not together all the time!You have known each other for almost twenty years but when you speak to each other in French you both still use the more formal ‘vous’ form of address. Why is that?
VANESSA: I respect Karl’s preference, but in any case the formalness does not create any distance between us.
KARL: I can’t stand familiarity, especially with those I like. It is a sign of indifference.How would you describe your relationship then?
KARL: I like working with people who don’t depend on others, who have their own lives. Hers is particularly successful; she never burdens you with her problems. Vanessa is not one to stamp her feet hysterically.
VANESSA: I am like most people, polite and pleasant with others when they are so with me. For the rest, let’s just say that I am so lucky that I don’t see what right I would have to talk about my little problems.Vanessa sang at the royal Opera of the Palace of Versailles and you took this series of photos just afterwards. Can you tell us about the shoot?
VANESSA: I was really impatient to see and work with him again. I always love it when we work together. But I was less familiar with the location than you were.
KARL: I know Versailles so well that I could replace the official guides if they were ever to go on strike!
VANESSA: Thanks to you, I was able to get changed in Marie-Antoinette’s bed chamber, I played a few notes on her harp, the wind blew my dress in the gardens in which she once walked, I entered the temple of Love and I found myself in the arms of an angel…Vanessa, how would you define Karl?
VANESSA: He has a hundred million activities but he is never tired, he always has time for you. He always has something interesting to say and he is often right. What I admire most about him is the combination of genius and goodness, but I am a bit embarrassed to say that in front of you Karl.
KARL: I’ll put my hands over my ears if you want, go ahead.
VANESSA: He is a lovely person and it is very easy to verify that just by chatting with his seamstresses. They only have the nicest things to say about him…Is that a natural character trait Karl?
KARL: With women, yes. I don’t like working with men so much. I have had several assistants who ended up thinking that they were ten times better than me, but none of them has succeeded. Apart from Hervé Léger, the others are all very average people whose heads suddenly swelled up far too much. Personally I let the air out of mine every morning.How do you see Vanessa?
KARL: She doesn’t take herself for a star. Around her, there is never going to be a crowd of bodyguards shoving away anyone who tries to get near her.
VANESSA: But that’s because I am the same as you Karl, I like people, I like to talk with them, to learn from them. We might be too discreet to say certain things.
KARL: I cannot stand indiscretion. People can show their backsides… that doesn’t bother me. But people who exhibit their sentiments… that shocks me. Luckily, Vanessa, you never do that.All things considered, Vanessa, how many different professions do you have? Actress, singer, and now being the face of a brand…
VANESSA: Yes, I am now participating in fashion in a creative way. It makes me feel good artistically. It isn’t the luxury that impresses me but the craftsmanship, the passion, the respect, the kindness of this fashion House. I’ve always liked the idea of being a “Chanel’s girl”. It makes me proud.‘Original’, is that a word that could characterize you both? And what about ‘dilettante’?
KARL: I adore ‘dilettante! There is a very attractive lightness about the word which suggests that we create while enjoying ourselves. We aren’t marked by the label of ‘laborious’. Original, yes, that too. I know that I’m not like anyone else.
VANESSA: I like feeling as though I am original. You’re not going to like my answer: I think that everyone is.
KARL: Ah, you are definitely very optimistic. But, let’s just say that I have yet to meet a second Vanessa Paradis, therefore you are original, my dear.Vanessa’s concert at the Palace of Versailles is a mixture of raw, primitive and very sophisticated sounds. Is that how you felt about it?
VANESSA: There are 18 meters of empty space and wood beneath the stage. The vibrations of the vocal chords mingled with those of the instruments ripple through you from head to toe.
KARL: Versailles is perfect for that. The era of Louis XIV was still quite a brutal and wild time. Vanessa’s concert was convivial, intense and intimate, just as it probably was in the age when Lully gave representations of ‘Atys’, the King’s favorite opera.The French singer Matthieu Chedid says of Vanessa that she is an icon, like Brigitte Bardot was. Could you explain, Mr. Lagerfeld, what an icon is?
KARL: It’s an odd-looking thing that you see in Greek or Russian Orthodox churches. More seriously: ambassador, icon, muse they are all words that are used in so many different contexts these days. Deviating things from their original meaning is very dangerous.One of your latest songs is about Marilyn Monroe and you even own a pair of shoes that once belonged to her. Is she an icon for you Vanessa?
VANESSA: Hearing you say her name sends a tingle up my spine! She had an incredible voice and I adore most of the films that she was in. I was lucky enough to be able to go and listen to Anna Mouglalis, another inspiration of the House of Chanel reading the poems and private notes written by Marilyn published in a work entitled ‘Fragments’. This book shows how intelligent, profound and cultured she was.Vanessa, you say that acting gives you a break from your personality and that your songs are never in any way autobiographical. So where is the real you in all that?
VANESSA: I am everywhere, but you’re talking about my innermost self so don’t think that I am going to tell you anything about that. I reveal so much about myself already, in what I say in interviews, on the stage, in photos and in my movies.
KARL: The key thing about Vanessa is not what she does but how she does it. She could make singing the telephone directory beautiful.Is a song a role?
VANESSA: That depends on your mood, who you are with, and your state of mind at the time.
KARL: But how do you manage to remember all the words in your songs? I couldn’t do it, I am so scatterbrained.
VANESSA: In a concert, I sometimes forget a few words and I just carry on as normal. But sometimes, like once with Charles Aznavour’s song ‘Emmenez-moi’, which is very difficult, you can get completely lost and have to stop. In that case all you can do is laugh and start again and, in the end, the audience doesn’t mind because they have shared a funny and out-of-the-ordinary moment with you.
KARL: You were singing an Aznavour song or singing with Aznavour?
VANESSA: Both. I have been lucky enough to sing ‘Au creux de mon épaule’ with him... and with my head on his shoulder, just as the song title demands!
KARL: Incredible! When I bought my first car - a Volkswagen convertible - that was the very first song I heard when I switched on the car radio.Vanessa, you have said: ‘I am so grateful to all the vicious tongues out there, they have forged my character.’ No hard feelings?
VANESSA: I don’t want to waste time on all that. I was launched into the public eye when I was just 14 years old and all the criticism and spiteful gossip really did do me a favor. I perhaps didn’t start off in the best possible way but people were definitely not very indulgent with me either. I was protected by my parents’ love.
KARL: I am not one to turn the other cheek. I can also be very hard. And I am extremely patient when it comes to getting my revenge. I can get back at someone twenty years later if they have done something really bad to me. But sometimes I let it go because the person just isn’t worth the trouble.Do you feel like there is respect between people in the world today?
KARL: I feel protected, sheltered from the nastiness of the world. I hardly know what the reality is and I almost feel like I should apologize for that. That is one of our privileges.
VANESSA: We are preserved but I don’t feel like I’m imprisoned in a bubble. As a mother of two children, I am naturally confronted with reality on a daily basis… that is a big difference between us. You are always going to be more concerned for your children than for yourself.
KARL: I think I would make the worst father ever because I would reproduce what I knew, in other words I would give them absolute freedom.
VANESSA: But you are such a kind person… I am sure you would be a good father.Do you not find it incredible to have seen Vanessa in the public eye for so long and to think that she is only 38?
VANESSA: She isn’t quite 38 yet! Wait for the 22nd of December!
KARL: She doesn’t look her age. For me she embodies youth and best of all completely natural youth.Is looking young important to you?
KARL: You are as old as you feel. Today’s obsession with youth has become a manufactured exaggeration, invented by middle-aged people who want to perturb older people.
VANESSA: Youth is a question of energy.
KARL: And a state of mind as well. You should never compare the present with a recent or distant past. Sometimes people harp on about the good old days. I say to them: ‘If it was that long ago, I don’t remember it.’
VANESSA: Strangely enough, I like looking back… remembering the good times, the people that I have loved, and that I miss.How would you define love?
VANESSA: Oh la la! It is something natural that needs to be worked at a little bit all the same.
KARL: To avoid falling into a routine and the resulting boredom, which often happens. That’s why the only love that I really believe in is a mother’s love for her children. I am wary of paternal love. I am for matriarchy. My mother used to say: ‘Men are not important; you can have a child with any of them.’ That may explain my outlook on things.
VANESSA: That is the love you believe in, and I totally respect that. But I received a lot of love from my father, and his love was completely different from the love my mother gave me and plays a crucial role in my balance as a person. And then, I see the love that Johnny has for his children. It takes a different form, but there is the same devotion.Karl, did you have a difficult relationship with your father?
KARL: My father was born in 1880; he was from another age, another planet almost. But he was adorable, kinder than my mother but less fun. He always used to say to me: ‘You can ask me anything you want but not in front of your mother.’ Because she mocked his weakness. I used to write diaries which she read and threw them away saying: ‘Is it really necessary that the world know what an idiot you were?’Vanessa, what news of ‘My American lover’, film in which you were going to star alongside Johnny Depp for the first time?
VANESSA: The script is not finished. At least, we are not completely satisfied with the versions so far. And then we will have to juggle between Johnny’s agenda and mine. The project interests us both but is also a bit scary. Finding myself face to face with him, having to act, lie in a way, still seems complicated to me. At the same time, it would allow us to spend time together while working, but I really don’t know whether I would be up to it. On the other hand, I love it when he directs me, which he has done for four of my music videos. What he does is so full of ideas, images, and meaning.
KARL: What sort of woman would you like to play opposite Johnny? Because in this case, you wouldn’t be at home anymore, you would need to find something else.
VANESSA: I think that it would be a lot simpler for me to play his sister or his landlady or something like that. We didn’t go looking for a movie in which I would be his lover, the proposal came out of the blue and we liked the idea. And then, it is also what people want to see.